April 29 – May 5, 1998
Wednesday, April 29 After four years at the helm of his own CNBC talk show, with no chance of another Beethoven sequel, Charles Grodin considers himself part of the talk-show fraternity that includes his hero and Connecticut neighbor Jack Paar. So did he ever have that lunch he was haranguing David Letterman about one night on his show? It was supposed to be Charles, Dave, Regis Philbin and Jack Paar. “Never did,” Mr. Grodin said. “I wanted to until I realized how stressed Letterman was. I think he sees these things as a mandate to be funny, and I think if I thought of it that way, it would be stressful to me, too, but I don’t really think of it that way. But he does, and by the time I realized the pressure I was putting him under, I started thinking maybe I should write some material for the lunch. It’s like when I did Johnny Carson, I wouldn’t plan what I was going to say on stage, but I would plan what I would say to him back stage. He’d come into the makeup room and he’d say something funny, and it’d be good if you could say something funny-‘There sure is a lot of makeup back here.’ He’s a witty guy, and he’s always got something to say. I felt that Dave was alluding to that being the case with Paar. Jack might see things that way. I’ve had dinner with him, and he says stuff like, ‘Tell me something that is really interesting,’ and even that I find kind of funny and he gets it. I see everything as a kind of theatrical event, unfortunately or fortunately.” …
Why do you and Dave like Regis so much? “Because Regis is like every man, except he can express it. He has the frustrations and the charms. He’s like that off camera. He’s like the part Jack Lemmon plays in the movies.” Tonight, Mr. Grodin interviews former death row inmate Shareef Cousin.
[CNBC, 15, 11 P.M.]
Thursday, April 30
The Jewish Museum, desperate to get some youngsters up to East 92nd Street, hosts a forum of TV comedy writers that includes Seinfeld co-executive producer Gregg Kavet, Anne Bernstein (of MTV’s Daria ), John Markus ( The Cosby Show , Lateline ) and Susan Silver ( The Mary Tyler Moore Show , Bob Newhart ). Mr. Kavet, a 29-year-old graduate of The Harvard Lampoon , is one of four Seinfeld writers (along with his partner Andy Robin, Spike Feresten and Bruce Kaplan) to score multimillion-dollar deals with Castle Rock Entertainment to develop post- Seinfeld sitcoms.…
Did you write collaboratively at Seinfeld ? “At Seinfeld , what was great was you’d basically go off alone for literally months and work on a script before you had to do anything. It was very long-term story development. With [co-creator] Larry [David], you’d write your best shot at a script, and he’d rewrite it according to how much he needed it, and he’s so quick he could do it really fast. After he left [in ’96], it turned into a much more traditional sit-around-the-table process. Working with Jerry gave us much more of a sense of what he contributed, which was a lot, but the process is a lot less fun. The group efforts are a lot less strong because they lose any sort of strong story. They tend to be a good collection of jokes. It’s more like The Simpsons , which is a very collaborative effort.” In tonight’s third-to-last, new episode (a group effort), Elaine wants to keep her 212 area code. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]
Friday, May 1
“Do you work at Scores?” asked Cheech Marin, now playing second banana to Don Johnson in Nash Bridges . “I recognize your voice.” Sorry, pal. But how’s Nash Bridges going? “Really bitchin’,” he said. “I’ll do it until the wheels drop off, until this horse turns into glue. Donny and I are such good buds-why go looking for misery? This is the first TV show that I was on that’s been renewed. Getting a hit TV show is the hardest gig in show business.” …
How about another movie with Tommy Chong? “I think Cheech and Chong has been perma-plaqued,” said Cheech. “We were together 17 years and we’ve talked about doing another movie, but whenever we get close to it, the same old tensions that drew us apart come back.” …
What do you like on TV? “I watch Ally McBeal , ’cause everybody’s talking about it. I like that they stretch the boundaries of reality, but there’s some parts of it where I just want to smack everybody in it, you know what I mean?” Yes. Thank you, Cheech. “Bye, babe.” [WCBS, 2, 10 P.M.]
Saturday, May 2 The following message was left on the NYTV answering machine by cultural critic and speedy talker Camille Paglia, in between teaching classes at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It was a response to the question: “Why does MSNBC drag out deaths and tragic events for such a long time?” …
“Yeah, listen, I loved the way they shifted right over into the Linda McCartney, ah, coverage. I just loved it and I remarked to my significant other that it was very much like the early days of CNN, when they didn’t have much scheduled footage or programs or anything because it wasn’t as structured as it is now. CNN has gotten way overstructured, and so I just loved this-it was just this long, lingering thing with news footage of the past. You know, I’m a teacher and a scholar, so I’m very interested in this kind of archival footage, some of which was never seen. Like there were certain things that they brought out from the Beatles, you know, press conferences in Cleveland and things like that, you know, from their affiliate there, that have never been seen. So I think it’s fantastic, I really do, and that’s a separate issue. This, like, rolling, meditative, you know, journey into the past. I think people totally lack any kind of historical consciousness right now. People in the media and people in academe even. Everything is obsessed with the present, I mean, people hardly read anything before 1980, so I am delighted with this. ‘Cause our young people have been deprived of an historical context in their education, so I applaud what they’re doing. But beyond that, the death thing is a separate thing. Now you listen-reveling in sex and death are two of the great tabloid subjects and you know-” Sorry. Message was too long.…
The archival footage comes out four times a day on MSNBC’s Time and Again . [MSNBC, 43, 4 P.M.]
Sunday, May 3
But really, what’s it all about, cable TV’s new obsession with celebrity deaths and such? Bob Thompson, director of the Center for Study of Popular TV at Syracuse University, had a theory or two: “It seems to me that MSNBC and a lot of other cable services are the equivalent of the conversation that goes on in a barbershop, where you can take a tiny bit of data and squeeze a lifetime of conversation out of it. It’s the same idea as a postgame show on a sporting event. The event wasn’t enough, we want to bask in it some more …
“Hearing of the deaths of great people who have somehow become a part of our identity, like Princess Diana, doesn’t seem to be enough for many people. Even though they know there will be no new developments in the story, there is something almost therapeutic and psychiatric about the extended coverage. It’s not grief therapy, but information processing. It’s not the information that’s important, but the repetition of it, sometimes out of sheer interest and sincerity, sometimes out of like sticking your tongue in a decayed tooth.” …
When will the Clinton scandal stop being discussed at length on TV? “They’ll stop covering Clinton when people stop watching it. It will get canceled like a series gets canceled.” Will we ever get tired of the Clinton story? “I get the sense that it’s still going on on CNN, MSNBC and for late-night comics. Mostly, it’s the channels that are in business to do just that … I look at journalism in 1998 as an effective drug with lots and lots of side effects. There’s so many people doggedly going after these stories that usually we’re getting somewhere close to the truth. I mean, 50 years ago this Clinton story would have been buried entirely.” Marvin Kalb and Howard Kurtz talk about the press talking about Clinton on Reliable Sources . [CNN, 10, 10:30 A.M.]
Monday, May 4
David Letterman is the broadcasting genius, and Jay Leno is the dutiful host who goes tee-hee a lot and has a good sense of TV politics. But here’s something that might explain Mr. Leno’s habit of trouncing Mr. Letterman in the ratings: Tonight, Mr. Leno begins a week of shows taped in Chicago; last week, rather than actually visit the second city, Mr. Letterman flew an entire audience of Chicagoans to New York and put them in the Ed Sullivan Theater and pretended he was in Chicago. It was kinda funny, for the first couple minutes. Tonight on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno : Oprah! [WNBC, 4, 11:35 P.M.]
Tuesday, May 5
Kevin Williamson, creator of Dawson’s Creek , pays homage to himself (he’s the guy behind Scream, Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer) with a creepy but mostly ironic special “scary” episode. [WB, 11, 9 P.M.]
Movie of the Week
by Peter Bogdanovich
Toward the end of 1968, when I first met Orson Welles, he was so remarkably disarming that I had the nerve to tell him the one film of his I didn’t really like (at that time) was his 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s famous, surrealistically inclined novel, The Trial [Tuesday, May 5, Showtime, 37, 9:15 A.M. – the day before what would be O.W.’s 83rd birthday] . And, to please me (I would find out), he pretended to agree, but within a year or so, he came closer to the truth: “It’s very personal for me … much closer to my own feelings about everything than any other picture …”
Right at the start, Welles spells out the mood of the film, which, he explains in his narration, has “the logic of a dream, a nightmare …” and, indeed, no other picture ever made has quite so pervasively or so hauntingly captured that terrifying feeling of unnamable horror. The leading character K (exceptionally played by Anthony Perkins soon after his Psycho success) is awakened at the beginning by two police detectives who proceed to ask him a series of insinuating questions, making him aware that he is not only suspected of some terrible, never-named crime, but also that he is feeling and acting inordinately guilty for a person professing innocence. Welles said he used to have recurring dreams of having murdered someone, waking in a sweat, wondering where it had happened.
Shot on real locations all over Europe-Prague, Munich, Paris-the film is as enthralling as it is unsettling, and was easily 30 years ahead of its time: The frightening sensation of dread it produces is far more in keeping with the dizzying, unbalanced 90’s than the early 60’s before even the J.F.K. assassination. Welles smoothly plays the Advocate, a silky, slippery, God-like lawyer K goes to for help, and the picture’s evident distrust of the legal profession and of the easy corruptibility of the Law reminds one of Shakespeare’s famous line: “First, kill all the lawyers!”
Orson told me that he and Perkins, as well as the brilliant international supporting cast, which includes Romy Schneider, Elsa Martinelli, Akim Tamiroff, Madeleine Robinson and Suzanne Flon, had an often hilarious time shooting the movie, breaking up over the dank coldness of the inexorably ominous tale. I sat next to Welles at a black-tie screening of The Trial in Paris in the 70’s-the only time I saw one of his films with him-and understood through his very amused reactions the kind of deeply black humor the picture contains.
But then Welles was nearing 50 when he made the movie, and I was still in my 20’s and early 30’s when we were talking about it: I’m afraid one’s life experiences need to pile up, in their sometimes bewildering and unfortunate ways, before the picture’s real effectiveness can be fully appreciated. It is a profoundly disturbing film, and one of the most uncompromisingly chilling looks at the awful ambiguities of life in the late 20th century. The opening fable Welles narrates-about an accused man and his fruitless lifelong struggle with the Law (dramatized through a unique series of pin-shadow illustrations done by a Russian couple Orson found)-is by itself among the most darkly resonant sequences ever put on film, all the more so because there has never been heard in movies a more eloquent storyteller’s voice than Orson Welles’, nor has there been an American film artist of his complexity or depth.
The Ford Watch: Two parts of John Ford’s famous cavalry trilogy, both essentially antiwar pictures in which the Indians are portrayed with dignity and respect, both starring John Wayne, 1948’s black-and-white Fort Apache [Sunday, May 3, TCM, 82, 5:30 P.M.] and 1949’s Technicolor She Wore a Yellow Ribbon [Thursday, April 30, TCM, 82, noon] . In the first, Henry Fonda is particularly memorable as the arrogant Custer-like martinet who leads his men into a massacre, and in the second, Wayne is amazingly effective-playing a good 25 years older than he was at the time-as an aging captain about to retire.
Previously recommended highly (columns sent upon request): The first real independent U.S. film, Welles’ richly cinematic 1952 adaptation of Shakespeare’s
Othello [Friday, May 1, Bravo, 64, 4:30 P.M., and Saturday, May 2, Bravo, 64, 1 P.M.] ; Ernst Lubitsch’s penultimate film, the wonderfully funny and touching 1943 Technicolor chronicle of an unimportant man, with Don Ameche and Gene Tierney, Heaven Can Wait [Tuesday, May 5, AMC, 54, 6:30 P.M.] .